Allegiance - Chapter 19
by The Stowaway
The officer who came to the harbour at sunset to meet the corvette Swift upon its return from Port Royal was taken aback to see a woman standing on the deck, shading her eyes and gazing at the town. It was only as she came down the gangplank and walked along the quay toward him, that he recognized her and his mild annoyance at a breach of regulations became astonished dismay.
"Mrs. Norrington," he exclaimed as she drew near. "What are you… I mean, how did…"
"Good evening, Lieutenant Parker," Elizabeth said, ignoring the young man's stammering confusion. "I wish to see my husband. Take me to him, if you please."
But, Mrs. Norrington, I don't think…"
"Where is he, Lieutenant? At the fort or aboard the Dauntless?"
"Neither, ma'am. He is…" Parker stopped as Elizabeth went white beneath her shipboard tan.
"Oh, good God," she whispered.
"No," Parker cried, more embarrassed than ever. "No, no, ma'am! It is not what you think. The Commodore lives. He is alive."
Elizabeth drew a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, their expression made the unfortunate Parker take an involuntary step backward.
"In that case, Lieutenant," she said, in a careful voice, "may I suggest that you instantly do as I ask and take me to him?"
"Yes, ma'am," Parker replied, miserably. He led the way up the street, reflecting that the Commodore's lady was very nearly as formidable as her husband.
When they reached the door of the Blue Turtle the lieutenant stopped, mindful of the General Order barring any man below the rank of Post Captain from entering the inn.
Elizabeth surveyed the tidy, if weather-beaten, front of the building, with its faded blue sign swaying in the evening breeze.
"The Commodore is here?" she asked.
"He is, ma'am," Parker nodded.
"Thank you, Lieutenant." Elizabeth furled her sunshade and walked to the door. Turning, she said, "Please have my trunks brought from the Swift. I will be stopping here."
"Yes, ma'am," Parker replied as she stepped through the doorway and out of his sight. He hurried back to the quay, shaking his head. What Captain Groves would make of this development he could not guess, but he did not look forward with any pleasure to being the one to tell him about it.
Elizabeth walked into the smoky common room of the Blue Turtle and stopped as the patrons fell silent. She looked around; the place was half full of as unprepossessing a collection of rascals as she had ever encountered, even on her visits to the island trading vessels that docked in Port Royal. There was not a Naval uniform to be seen. She waited, expecting the innkeeper to attend her, but instead a tall, burly sailor with graying hair and bushy side-whiskers rose from his seat near the bar and approached somewhat diffidently. There was something vaguely familiar about him.
"Miss Elizabeth?" he asked, sounding as surprised as she felt when she heard his voice, with its faint hint of Ireland.
"Mister Gibbs?" she exclaimed. "Can it really be you?"
"Aye, tis me, right enough, Miss Elizabeth," Gibbs replied. "Fancy you remembering me after all these years."
"But you are not in uniform," Elizabeth said. "Are you no longer in the Navy?"
Gibbs coughed. "Well, no, Miss," he said. "The Navy and me had what you might call a falling out, not long after the voyage what brought you and the Governor to Jamaica."
"I see," she replied. And she did see - desertions were common enough - but forbore to question him further.
"But what are you doing here, Miss Elizabeth? So far from home and all." Gibbs asked.
"I am Mrs. Norrington now," Elizabeth said. "And I am here to see my husband. Where is someone who can conduct me to him? I do not see the host."
"Missus Norrington, eh?" said Gibbs, looking at first surprised and then amused. "You don't say. Well now, no need to bother Hobson; I'll take ye to the Commodore. Nothin' easier. Step this way, if you please." And he led her to the stairs.
In the corridor on the first floor Gibbs stopped at a door at the front of the house and knocked softly as he lifted the latch and pushed it open.
"Missus Norrington," he announced as Elizabeth stepped into the room.
Elizabeth's eyes went instantly to the bed and she flew across the room, taking no notice of Gibbs as he shut the door and went back downstairs, nor paying any attention to the man in a dark coat standing at the head of the bed.
James lay unconscious - flushed and sweating. His head moved restlessly on the pillow and his brow was furrowed. His lips were dry and cracked; from time to time he licked them in a fruitless search for moisture. Elizabeth leant over him, feeling his forehead, which burned under her palm.
"Oh, my darling," she whispered. She took his hand in both of hers. "James. James, can you hear me? It's Elizabeth."
"He cannot hear you, ma'am," said the man on the other side of the bed. "He is delirious."
Elizabeth looked up to find herself the subject of an appraising gaze. Bristling at the impertinence, she stared back, taking in the gold in the stranger's ears and noting that his coat, while plain, was of silk broadcloth with carved silver buttons. Not a servant, then.
"Are you the doctor, sir?" she asked sharply.
He bowed; face solemn while his dark eyes laughed at her. "Captain Jack Sparrow, ma'am, at your service," he replied.
"But where is the doctor?" Elizabeth demanded. "Why is he not here? My husband is very ill!"
"Doctor Selwyn was here not half an hour ago," he said, soothingly. "And he will return in the morning."
Elizabeth was incredulous. "And who is caring for my husband while he is absent?" she cried, her voice rising. "Where is the nurse?"
Captain Sparrow shrugged. "There are no nurses on this island; the settlement is very small," he explained.
"Then I ask again," she insisted. "Who is to care for my husband until the doctor returns?"
Sparrow bowed again. "I have that honour, ma'am."
"I do not understand how this can be," Elizabeth felt that she had strayed into a nightmare. "You are not a doctor."
"Nor am I," Jack replied, "but I have considerable experience with gunshot wounds. I have looked after the Commodore since he was injured and Doctor Selwyn is pleased to approve of my ability."
At this moment, there was a knock and two sailors from the Swift came in with her trunks. When they had gone, Elizabeth - somewhat more composed - turned to Jack and raised her chin.
"Thank you for your kind offices, Captain Sparrow," she said, rather haughtily. "But I believe we must not trespass upon your time any longer. I shall be staying in this room until my husband is recovered and will nurse him myself."
"Old hand at such things as you are," Jack murmured.
Elizabeth pressed her lips together and ignored the taunt. "Good night, Captain Sparrow," she snapped.
"Mrs. Norrington." Jack left the room and Elizabeth turned back to the bed, watching James's face intently. She felt his forehead; it seemed hotter and she wished very much that the doctor would come tonight. Pouring some water into the washbasin, she dipped a cloth in it and bathed James's brow. She did not know what else to do.
Suddenly she heard footsteps in the corridor and the door opened to admit Jack, followed by Hobson and the potboy, carrying a cane daybed; at Jack's direction they set it down in front of the hearth and tiptoed out. Sally Hobson followed, with a pillow and an armload of blankets, which she spread out on the daybed. Then she too left the room, closing the door behind her.
"What is the meaning of this, Captain Sparrow?" Elizabeth demanded.
Jack grinned at her and she caught the gleam of gold. "Why," he said, "Since the truckle bed is now - I presume - yours, I need a place to sleep. Unless, of course, you intended for me to share…?" At her outraged look he chuckled. "No, I thought not."
Elizabeth drew herself up. "You are offensive, sir," she said, her tone frosty.
Intentionally, I assure you." Jack bowed with another grin.
"You will leave this room, Captain Sparrow," Elizabeth declared. "At once!"
Jack walked around her and to the head of the bed. His glance was almost contemptuous. "No, Mrs. Norrington," he replied. "I will not."
"This is insufferable!" Elizabeth cried. "I shall have you removed." She went to the bell.
"By whom?" he asked, amused. "The host and his wife are old friends and every man in the common room is one of mine."
Elizabeth glared at him and had opened her mouth to reply when she was startled by a moan from James. Forgetting Sparrow in that instant, she rushed to the bedside and took her husband's hand.
"Elizabeth," James mumbled, his eyes closed.
"I am here, my love," she said, "James, I am here."
James's eyes flew open and he stared at her; there was no recognition in his gaze. "Where is Elizabeth?" he asked, very clearly.
"I am here, darling." She clasped his hand in both of hers. "See? I am right here," she said in a shaking voice.
"I must go to her," James said, twisting his hand, trying to free himself. Succeeding, he threw back the covers and attempted to sit up. "I must go to Elizabeth. I must tell her…"
Elizabeth, wide-eyed with fear, tried to make him lie back, but he swept her aside and swung his legs off the bed as if he would rise.
So quickly he hardly seemed to move, Jack Sparrow was around the bed and at her side. He pressed James back against the pillows. Bending quickly, he took the sick man's ankles and lifted his feet back onto the bed, neatly foiling James's continued efforts to stand.
"I must…" James said, plucking at Jack's hands that were once again holding him down. "Must go…"
"And so you shall," Jack said, matter-of-factly. "But not just at present. It is nighttime, you see. You must wait until morning."
His tone seemed to soothe James's agitation. James nodded and his eyes slid closed. Jack covered him with the sheet. Going around again to the stand on the other side of the bed, he poured a glass of water. Then, half-sitting on the mattress, he lifted James and propped him against his shoulder and held the glass against his lips. James drank without opening his eyes, sighing when the water was gone. Jack lowered him once again to the pillows. In so doing he glanced up at Elizabeth, still standing against the wall where James had thrust her.
"It is as I said before," he remarked. "Your husband is delirious. He did not know it was you."
Elizabeth nodded, calm but clearly shaken. "Yes, Captain Sparrow," she replied. "I understand that. I have seen delirium before." She took a step forward and rested her palms lightly on the bed; she glanced down and then up, swallowing nervously.
"Thank you for your assistance just now," she said, looking him in the eye. "I see that the doctor was right to entrust my husband to your care. I… I could not have prevented him from leaving his bed."
The apology plainly cost her something to make and Jack acknowledged it with a slight bow for once devoid of mockery. He went to the bell.
"He will rest more quietly for a space, although we've not seen the last of such behaviour, I fear," he said. "Accordingly, I shall take this opportunity to have some supper. Will you join me?"
Elizabeth nodded. Sparrow's assumption of the rôle of host irritated her, but her very real gratitude for his assistance in the recent crisis was sufficient to prevent her giving voice to her annoyance. In addition, she was, she found, rather hungry.
A short time later, they sat down to one of Sally Hobson's good, if simple, meals. They ate in silence for a space until Elizabeth, who could not keep her eyes from James, asked, "Has he been like this for long?"
Jack shook his head. "No," he replied. "The fever came on two nights ago, after he had spent the day out of bed - against the doctor's orders. Before that, he had been recovering very well."
"But, surely, he has not been out of his senses for two days?" she exclaimed.
"He was quite lucid until just a few hours ago," Jack replied, refilling her wine glass. "When the fever rose rather suddenly. Doctor Selwyn is of the opinion that the crisis will come tonight. There is naught to do now but wait."
Elizabeth shivered as the word 'crisis' sent a chill through her. It was a bitter thought that James would have known she was at his side, had she arrived a day - or, even, half a day - earlier. What if she had missed her last chance to…? She snatched the thought back and crushed it. James would recover, she told herself fiercely, he would.
She tore her eyes away from the still figure on the bed and took a sip of wine. Then she forced herself to take a bite of bread. The actions, the normalcy of them, helped to calm her. Gradually her heart ceased to pound and she was able to breathe again. She went on with her meal.
To keep from staring at her husband, Elizabeth studied the man across the table from her; observing him covertly, trying to make him out. He was, she saw, good-looking in a swarthy and somewhat rakish way. His features were unusual, exotic even. His speech bore traces of refinement, although overlaid with a deplorably common accent, and yet his table manners were good and he bore himself for the most part like a gentleman. She wondered who he was; she had never heard his name before.
Jack looked up at that moment and caught her staring; he raised his brows in silent question.
Elizabeth, embarrassed, hastened into speech. "You are not a Naval officer, Captain Sparrow, I think?" she asked.
Jack's eyes glinted with what might have been amusement. "No ma'am," he replied. "I am a privateer; Captain of the Black Pearl."
"What!?" she cried, shocked. "But that is a…"
"Pirate ship?" Jack finished for her. He smiled. "No longer. I took her from the late Captain Barbossa this spring."
"I see." So, he was a privateer. Elizabeth glanced at Jack thoughtfully; this explained a good deal. Sparrow's appearance, for one thing - his fondness for gold in his ears and mouth, and the outlandish way he darkened his eyes. Also, the disreputable appearance of the men downstairs - his crew - and the presence of Mister Gibbs, a naval deserter, was now made clear to her. But still it did not account for his attendance upon her husband.
Privateers, according to James, were a necessary evil; he tolerated but did not encourage them, for all that some of them had been uncommonly helpful against the Spanish. They were, James said, merely adventurers who operated just this side of the law, and not infrequently slipped over the line into piracy themselves.
"Then how is it that you are here, Captain Sparrow?" she asked after a short pause.
"My ships fought in the recent battle on the side of the Navy," Jack said, leaning back in his chair, with amusement writ plain upon his face. He chuckled. "A marriage of convenience, you could call it, that allowed us to defeat a foe that would have overwhelmed either of us singly."
Elizabeth glanced at James and back to Jack. "But," she began.
"Ah," Jack interrupted her. "You mean how did I get here in this room, eh? Since it was my Pearl that pulled your husband out of the water, and seeing as how the Commodore was pleased to approve of the care we took of him on the trip back to George Town, well, one thing led to another, you might say."
"You saved my husband's life?" Elizabeth asked.
Jack bowed. "I had that honour," he replied. "Oh, I am certain the Dauntless would have managed it in due time, but we were to windward and able to reach him first."
Elizabeth digested this information. "It seems we are deeply in your debt, Captain Sparrow," she said at last.
"So it seems," Jack agreed. "More wine?"
"No, I thank you," Elizabeth replied, rising. Sparrow's tone verged on impertinent. Mindful that she needed his help, although it galled her to admit it, she walked away lest she call him to book for his manners. She pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down, taking James's good hand in hers. She closed her eyes and prayed for her husband's life to be spared.
Movement nearby made her open her eyes to see Sparrow drawing his chair up to the bed opposite her. He tipped it back on two legs, placed one heel upon the covers and crossed the other over it. Then he pulled a book out of his coat pocket and was soon absorbed in reading.
Time crawled. The innkeeper's wife - Sally Hobson, Sparrow called her - came and cleared away the dinner things and brought tea, for which Elizabeth was profoundly grateful and said so.
"Why thank you, madam," Mistress Hobson beamed, dropping a curtsey. "It's my pleasure, I'm sure. If there's anything ye lack, just ring."
More hours passed, during which Elizabeth, despite herself, dozed from time to time. The room was close and the sounds from downstairs muted as the night wore on.
Presently, James began once more to be agitated. He rolled his head from side to side and spoke, but the words were indistinct.
Sparrow laid aside his book and set briskly to work. He raised James and gave him another drink of water - with some difficulty this time, for James resisted - and plumped his pillows before lowering him once more to the bed. Jack then pulled aside his nightshirt to check the dressing on the wound. James meanwhile was becoming more and more restless, trying to pull the bandage off his shoulder and attempting to rise from the bed.
Elizabeth watched as Sparrow was obliged to use considerable effort to prevent James from doing himself a mischief. It was frightening to see her husband like this, ill and helpless - out of his head with fever. Sparrow was speaking in a low, calm voice, attempting to soothe his patient even as he restrained him.
Elizabeth frowned. Something was not right with the scene before her; she could not put her finger on what it was. Sparrow was a very competent nurse; there was nothing wrong in what he was doing for James, as far as she could tell, so why did watching them make her uncomfortable? Intimacy. She held her breath and watched more closely. That was it. There nothing impersonal in Sparrow's touch; his hands held James's arms almost tenderly. The way she would touch him; the way a lover would. She gasped.
Horrified speculation raced through her thoughts even as James grew momentarily still. With disastrous clarity, he spoke again.
"Jack," he said.
"Right here, mate," Sparrow replied.
"Stay," James whispered and closed his eyes with a sigh, seeming to fall once more into a restless sleep.
"M'not going anywhere," Sparrow said, softly, releasing James's arms and smoothing the covers, which had been disarranged in the struggle.
Elizabeth held herself rigidly still, her eyes on her folded hands. All her will was bent on concealing the awful knowledge that had burst upon her with the suddenness and force of a lightning bolt.
She had a rival. Jack Sparrow..
And like a lightning bolt, that illuminates every tiniest detail in one blinding flash, this revelation had cast its pitiless and lurid light upon the events of the past two months. The dreadful significance of so much that had puzzled her about James's state of mind was now made inescapably clear.
How ironic that - when she had considered the possibility that her husband had taken a lover - she had dismissed the notion out of hand, for James had never, in all the years she had known him, looked upon another woman in the way he looked at her. He had never given her the least cause for alarm, never flirted nor paid court to any woman save her. That James might betray her with a man had never entered her imagination.
Suddenly, she remembered the Simmersons' ball. She recalled James's anger over her costume: dark green coat, buff breeches, tall boots, golden earrings and - God help her - kohl-rimmed eyes. She wanted to clap her hands over her ears as she heard herself ask him, 'Can't you love a pirate?' and remembered what followed. Oh dear God in Heaven, she thought, stunned, and bit back a sob.
There was a roaring in her ears and for a moment she could not breathe. She heard that man speaking, asking her if she was well and her hands curled upon themselves until her fingernails bit into her palms. The pain steadied her and she drew a deep breath.
"Mrs. Norrington," Sparrow said again, "Are you well? Would you like me to get you something?"
Pride came to her rescue; she would not - would not - give way before her enemy. If she could not yet meet his eye, at least she could speak calmly.
"I am well, thank you," she said, pleased at the coolness of her tone. "It was a passing faintness only."
"Delirium is not a pretty sight," Sparrow replied. "But I've a feeling that we are over the worst of it. If the fever's going to break, it will do so before dawn, which is barely an hour off."
Elizabeth nodded. She did not know if he saw, nor did she care; she had no intention of speaking to him more than was absolutely necessary.
Silence fell as the minutes ticked by and Elizabeth laboured for calm. How had this come about? She had heard tales of voudoun spells that drove those so enchanted to unnatural lusts. Had Sparrow somehow bewitched her husband? Fruitless to waste time guessing, she told herself.
The one important fact was that she would not let this… this interloper steal her husband from her. Whatever her previous mistakes - and she winced yet again as the ball flashed once more before her eyes - she would fight with every fibre of her being to keep James. No half-outlaw privateer was going to defeat Elizabeth Norrington.
As the window, which faced east, began to show the first faint hints of grey, James gave a great sigh and stopped his restless twitching. Elizabeth and Sparrow both leapt to their feet. James's chest rose and fell slowly and regularly. His brow was cool and dry and his pulse even. The fever had broken at last, just as the doctor and Sparrow had foretold.
Elizabeth brushed the sweaty hair off James's forehead and kissed his temple, tears of relief and exhaustion pricking her eyelids. Her prayers were granted; her husband would live.
"He'll do now," Sparrow said. "Time to get some rest ourselves before the doctor arrives."
Elizabeth nodded without looking at him. She pulled out the trundle bed, quietly so as not to disturb James, and turned back the covers. She took the pins from her hair and lay down as she was. She heard Sparrow's boots drop one by one to the floor and then the creak of the day bed and he, too, lay down.
"Good night, Mrs. Norrington," he said.
"Good night, Captain Sparrow," Elizabeth replied.
It was barely eight o'clock when a knock upon the chamber door woke Elizabeth. She sat up, gritty-eyed and momentarily confused. James! She reached up to touch his forehead, as he lay, still sound asleep, in the bed above her. It was cool and she breathed a sigh of relief. Looking around she saw that the daybed was empty and Sparrow was nowhere in sight.
The knock was repeated and Elizabeth scrambled to her feet and opened the door. Sally Hobson stood there, smiling broadly and holding a covered tray.
"Brought you some breakfast, Missus Norrington," she said, squeezing past Elizabeth to set her burden down on the table. "Doctor Selwyn's downstairs, breakin' his fast with Jack, before coming up to examine the Commodore," she went on cheerfully. "So I reckoned you'd like a little bite to eat as well."
Sally uncovered the tray, from which a delicate steam was rising, to reveal bacon and eggs, a fresh roll with butter and jam, and a pot of coffee, with sugar and cream.
"It looks delicious, Mistress Hobson," Elizabeth said. "Thank you for being so thoughtful."
"Oh, don't thank me," Sally laughed. "It was Jack Sparrow sent this up. 'Sal, you take a tray to Missus Norrington and be quick about it' he said to me first thing when he come downstairs, afore I'd even time to ask if you was comin' down to breakfast."
"Did he?" Elizabeth replied. "Well, then, thank you, at any rate, for bringing it. This is very welcome."
Sally bobbed a curtsey and withdrew.
Elizabeth poured a cup of coffee and then did her best to pin up her hair without benefit of maid or mirror. Satisfied at last, she sat down to eat, wishing to be done with her meal before the doctor arrived. Indeed, she had barely finished when she heard footsteps upon the stairs.
Doctor Selwyn bowed with an old-fashioned courtesy over the hand she held out to him, saying as he did so, "My word, Mrs. Norrington, but I am very pleased to see you here. I am sure the Commodore will be the better for having you nearby."
Elizabeth, looking over the doctor's shoulder, surprised a flash of irritation on Sparrow's face and smiled warmly at Selwyn.
"I am delighted to meet you, Doctor," she replied.
"Now, then," Selwyn said, "Let me have a look at my patient. Captain Sparrow tells me the fever has broken. A very hopeful sign, indeed it is."
The doctor moved to the bed and took James's pulse, nodding in a pleased fashion. At the touch of Selwyn's fingers on his wrist, James stirred and opened his eyes, blinking dazedly.
"Good morning, Commodore," Selwyn greeted him. "I take it you are feeling a little better this morning?"
James nodded without speaking, a slight smile turning up the corners of his mouth. A movement on the other side of the bed caught his eye and he turned his head, eyes widening as they lit upon his wife.
"Elizabeth?" he whispered, incredulously.
Elizabeth took his hand, swallowed the sudden lump in throat, and nodded. "Yes, darling," she said, smiling. "It is I."
"Not a dream?" James replied. "I dreamt you were here."
Elizabeth laughed a little giddily, overjoyed to have James once again in his right mind. "Not a dream," she assured him, squeezing his hand tightly to reassure him of her presence. "I arrived late yesterday."
Doctor Selwyn, who had watched this exchange with approval, now began to remove the bandage from James's shoulder. "Let us see how this is coming along, sir," he said as he worked.
Elizabeth continued to hold James's hand - she could not have forced herself to let it go for any reason on earth - while the doctor examined the wound and declared himself satisfied with James's progress.
"Indeed, sir," Selwyn said drily, giving James a stern look as he tied a fresh dressing in place, "You are very fortunate. By rights, your insistence upon rising before it was advisable to do so could have had the gravest possible consequences - the very gravest. As it is, while you have suffered a bout of fever that will delay your recovery, your stubborn imprudence - for so I must call it, being a plain-spoken man - has done no injury to your shoulder."
James smiled. "I assure you, Doctor," he whispered, "That I have learnt my lesson and will henceforth be more tractable."
"See that you are, sir, or I shall wash my hands of you." Selwyn's answering smile mitigated the severity of this rebuke. "With your good lady and Captain Sparrow to look after you, I trust we will have you on your feet again soon enough. In the meantime, you must rest."
James nodded sleepily. "Yes, Doctor," he whispered and he was suddenly asleep.
Doctor Selwyn chuckled. "Nature will not be gainsaid, you see," he said. Turning to take both Elizabeth and Jack in his glance he went on, "Sleep is exactly what is required. But he must eat soon, if he is to regain his strength; nothing too heavy at first. Mistress Hobson knows what is needed. And keep him quiet - no visitors for at least two days. I shall return tomorrow at this hour to check on his progress."
Elizabeth thanked him again and then smiled brightly at Jack. "Oh, Captain Sparrow, would you be good enough to see Doctor Selwyn out? Thank you." And she turned back to James, but not before she had the satisfaction of seeing the quick frown crease Sparrow's brow.
Shortly after noon, as Elizabeth sat before the window, sewing, James stirred and yawned. Jack, who had been reading at the bedside, quickly poured some broth into a cup from the jug that stood ready on the table.
He bent over James in such a way that Elizabeth could not see her husband's face and spoke quietly, "About time you woke." Elizabeth heard a ghost of a chuckle from James. "Hungry?" Sparrow asked.
"A little," James said, his voice still weak.
"Drink this," Sparrow replied. "It'll put strength in you."
There was a pause while James sipped the broth. Then he spoke again. "Has Groves been here?" he asked. "The fleet…"
"Not your concern, mate," Jack interrupted him. "You're to rest, remember?"
"Tyrant," James whispered.
"And don't you forget it," Sparrow chuckled. "Go back to sleep."
James sighed. "So tired," he said.
Sparrow straightened and turned to place the empty cup on the nightstand. Elizabeth could see that James's eyes were closed. He had not asked for her, which stung, although it was not surprising, considering that he too weak yet to be fully rational. She eyed Sparrow's back, never doubting for an instant that he had blocked James's view of her deliberately.
Sparrow resumed his seat and took up his book; the afternoon went on in silence.
It was early evening when James woke again. Elizabeth and Jack had changed places - he was reading by the window while she sat next to the bed.
James opened his eyes, saw Elizabeth and smiled. "Good afternoon, wife," he said, sounding a little stronger.
"Good afternoon, husband," Elizabeth replied, returning his smile. She rose and pressed a kiss on his forehead. "How do you feel?" she asked.
"As if I have been rolled out thin as paper and left to dry in the sun, if you want the truth," James replied. "And hungry," he added, with a small grin.
"Hungry is a good sign," Jack said, coming up on the other side of the bed. "With a little feeding you'll begin to feel more substantial in no time."
"Jack?" James frowned, confused. "You are here! But, I thought I dreamt…" He looked from Jack to Elizabeth and back; his confusion gave way to alarm.
It was a confirmation, if any were needed, of Elizabeth's suspicions. The blow shook her but did not yet hurt, although she knew there was pain to come, once the shock wore off. But for now there was work to be done. James must not suspect that she knew, at the very least not while he was still so weak and ill.
Elizabeth took James's hand in a firm grip; his gaze swung back to her. "Yes," she said brightly, "We are both real, my dear. You are not dreaming, I assure you. I arrived from Port Royal last evening and found Captain Sparrow watching over you." She turned a glittering smile on Jack. "And now that I have come to take care of you, Captain Sparrow has been very kind in assisting me. I am most exceedingly obliged to him."
Jack smiled toothily back at her and Elizabeth knew that battle had been joined. "Mrs. Norrington and I have been taking it in turns to watch over you," he said to James. "When Doctor Selwyn saw you this morning, he said that with the two of us here, you'll be on your feet before you know it."
"Doctor Selwyn was here today?" James's alarm was allayed as he was once again beset by confusion.
"Aye," Sparrow said. "Thought you'd not remember; you were a bit dozy yet. He was here and changed the dressing on your shoulder. Scolded you, too, for what he called 'stubborn imprudence' in the matter of getting out of bed."
"Indeed he did," Elizabeth chimed in. "And you promised to follow his advice this time."
"Good heavens," James said. "How ill was I? I can't remember any of this."
"You were off your head for nigh on twenty-four hours, mate," Jack said. "I wondered for bit if were we going to lose you."
James was still trying to absorb this news when Sally Hobson and one of the maids brought up their dinner and for a few minutes the chamber was filled with the cheery bustle that accompanied Sally wherever she went.
Elizabeth, watching the maid set the table for two, found herself in a dilemma. She had intended to eat in the common room this evening, rather than sit at table with Sparrow. But, now that James was awake, she had no intention of leaving Sparrow alone with him for a moment, not to mention that it would give a very odd appearance for her to dine apart from her husband. It galled her that she would be forced to share a meal with Sparrow and to behave as if she were pleased to do so, but there was no help for it. She stepped forward to take the tray Mistress Hobson had prepared for James and carry it to the bed.
Jack had already propped James up on pillows so that he could feed himself as well as be able to converse with them as they sat at table. Elizabeth placed the tray across his knees and removed the napkin that covered it. There was a rich broth, with bits of meat and vegetables floating in it, some fresh bread and a glass of wine.
As they got James settled with his meal, Sally finished serving their dinner and left, shooing the maid before her. Jack pulled out Elizabeth's chair for her with a bow before taking his own. They dined on a thick fish chowder and brown bread, followed by a dried-apple tart.
Conversation was desultory for there were many things James wanted to know, but he was too weary for sustained discussion and his mind jumped from one subject to the next. He wanted news of the fleet, but Jack once again put him off, saying that Captain Groves had everything well in hand. James then asked how Elizabeth had come to George Town, and shook his head when she told him.
"That sets a bad example, Elizabeth," he said.
"Perhaps it does," she replied, unabashed, "But I do not often presume upon Father's rank, or yours, for that matter. And this was an extraordinary circumstance, so I do not feel that I have trespassed so greatly. Would you rather I had hired one of the island traders to bring me here?"
James's horrified look made her laugh. "That was exactly Father's reaction, as well," she smiled, "Which is how I persuaded him to help me bend the rules and sail on the Swift." Seeing James was finished eating, she rose and took his tray.
"Come now, darling," she coaxed, "Are you so very displeased to see me?"
With an effort, James smiled and reached for her hand. "Of course I am not displeased," he said, and then yawned.
"Not displeased, no, but tired, yes," Elizabeth retorted, smiling. Jack rose from the table and came to remove the extra pillows, allowing James to lie down, which he did with a sigh.
"So damnably weak," he murmured in a disgusted tone and closed his eyes.
"Only to be expected," Jack replied. "Sleep will help."
"Thank you for your assistance, Captain Sparrow," Elizabeth said, with a fixed smile, pulling up a chair to the bed. "I will sit with my husband until he falls asleep."
Jack bared his teeth. "Excellent notion, Mrs. Norrington," he replied, doing the same.
Elizabeth turned her shoulder to him and took James's hand. "Good night, darling," she said.
"Good night," James whispered.
In the morning, James woke feeling much stronger. He made a good breakfast, eating a bowl of porridge in addition to a soft-boiled egg, a roll and some coffee. Elizabeth and Jack broke their fast at the same time.
"Perhaps I shall get out of bed for a space today," James remarked, as he finished his second cup of coffee.
Elizabeth looked up, somewhat alarmed. "Let us wait to hear what Doctor Selwyn has to say first," she suggested. "He will be stopping by this morning, if you recall. It's not so very long to wait."
"Impatience has laid you low once already," Jack added. "This unwillingness to follow the good doctor's orders 'sets a bad example', mate."
James frowned at him and replied to Elizabeth. "Very well, we will see what Doctor Selwyn thinks."
When the breakfast things had been cleared away, James noticed the daybed over against the far wall of the room.
"That was not here before," he said. Elizabeth looked up from her sewing.
"Brought it in the night Mrs. Norrington arrived," Jack told him. "I needed a place to sleep - seeing as how she was using the trundle bed."
"What?" James cried, shocked. "You have been sleeping in this room for the past two nights? With her? With us?"
"Where else would I be?" Jack asked, looking James in the eye.
Elizabeth saw the faintest flush stain her husband's cheek. She crossed the room and made pretense of searching for something in her trunks where they stood near the door.
"In your own room, of course," James replied, curtly. "Any other arrangement is scandalously improper."
Jack continued to stare at him and waited.
"I am… you know I am grateful for your care, Jack," James said, his voice softer. "I owe you my life twice over and I am very sensible of the debt. But surely you see that, as things stand… I mean, now that I am better… now that my wife is here…"
"Don't distress yourself, Commodore," Jack interrupted him. "I understand perfectly and happen to agree with you. If you will excuse me, I'll just go see Hobson about removing the daybed, shall I?"
As Jack strode to the door, Elizabeth stood and they came face to face. Confident that James could not see her, hidden behind Sparrow as she was, she allowed a tiny, triumphant smile to curl her lips. Sparrow's answering look was almost murderous. Her smile broadened and she inclined her head in gracious dismissal.
"Good morning, Captain Sparrow."
Jack reached past her to open the door and left without speaking.
In the common room, Jack flung himself down on a bench in the corner and stared moodily at the wall. Who did that slip of girl think she was, taunting him in such a fashion? Well, if she thought he'd be routed that easily, she'd find herself at point non plus before long. Damn the bitch. He looked around for the barmaid. He needed a drink. He spotted Sally and waved her over. She arrived with a tankard in her hand and set it down in front of him.
"Fellow over there bought you a drink, Jack," she said, pointing. "Stranger. Been waiting for you."
Jack saw figure in the shadows on the far side of the room, who waved his own tankard in invitation when he saw Jack looking in his direction.
"Thanks, Sal," Jack said, patting her familiarly on the hip as she hurried off. He took a pull at the ale and stood. Stopping along the way to speak to the handful of his men scattered throughout the place, Jack made his circuitous way to the stranger's table and sat down.
He saw a weather-beaten sailor, who might have been any age from fifty to seventy. His hair was grey and clung to his skull in lank strands. A peg leg protruded from under the table. The man wore an eye-patch and one side of his face was a mass of scars, pulling his mouth awry. His remaining eye, however, was bright and sharp as a gimlet.
He toasted Jack silently and drank, smacking his lips. "Ah, that's proper good ale, so it is," he said, his voice hoarse and rasping. He spat on the floor and drank again, watching Jack the while. When he emerged from his tankard he was grinning; the scars twisted the smile into a leer.
"Ye don't know me, do ye, Jack?" he asked.
The stranger chuckled wheezily and cocked his head, waiting.
Slowly, Jack set down his ale and leaned forward, peering through the gloom. Something about that gesture was familiar, he thought. Someone he had known…
"Changed a bit, I have, since that last night on the Pearl," the stranger said, and the penny dropped.
"William?" Jack whispered, feeling his own eyes go wide.
"Aye, Jack, 'tis me, right enough," the old man replied, nodding, with another hideous grin.
"But you're dead," Jack exclaimed. "How...?" He waved his arms, unable to find words for his astonishment.
Bootstrap shook his head. "Not dead," he replied. "When Barbossa lifted the curse, I was freed along of the rest of 'em." He drank the last of his ale. "Good thing I'd made my way to shore by that time, else I'd've drowned for real."
Jack caught the barmaid's eye and ordered another round. Turning back to Bill Turner, he reached out and clasped his friend's hand.
"This calls for a celebration," he said. "Let's get drunk."
Bill returned the grip with surprising strength, given his decrepit appearance. He looked Jack in the eye and then away, almost shyly.
"Then you forgive me?" he asked, his gaze directed at the floor. "I mean, after the mutiny and all."
"Nothing to forgive," Jack replied. "There wasn't a thing you could have done, save get yourself marooned along with me. I never blamed you for saving your own skin, William."
The old man looked up, hope in his eye. "You mean it, Jack?"
"Of course I mean it, you old fool," Jack cried. "When have I ever lied to you? Well… about anything important, that is."
Bootstrap laughed. "You haven't changed, you young scamp - not one bit."
"You have," Jack replied, serious again. "What happened? After Barbossa tied you to that cannon and dropped you overboard."
"Well, I tell ye," Bill said, starting on the fresh tankard. "When I went over the side we were in deep waters. I was certain sure I'd be crushed down there in the black deep. But I landed on the top of an underwater mountain; it was so high that some sunlight reached me and I could see naught all round but the depths. I got free of the cannon - Bo's'n allus was sloppy with his knots, if you recall - and sat down on it. Fair flummoxed I was.
After a few days o' doin' nothing, I got an idea. Every so often one of them great sperm whales'd go by me, so close I could near about touch their hide. They'd go down into the deep and come up nigh on an hour later and head for the surface to blow. Well, to cut a long tale short, I swam out and grabbed onto the fluke of a whale as it rose up and it took me with it. Carried me a good long way before it sounded again and forced me to let go or be dragged down."
Jack took a drink. "Then what?" he prompted.
"I'd come across a spar floating, see," said Bill, "and I lashed myself to it with me belt and let the current take me. Every now and again a whole gang of dolphins'd come by and I'd catch hold and let them tow me. I swear, Jack, they acted like it was a game. Not afeard of me at all." He shook his head in remembered wonder. "'Tweren't all so easy, to be sure," he went on, tapping his wooden leg. "Had a bit of a brawl with a shark, too. But, in the end, I come ashore, mostly in one piece, and then all I had to do was lay low."
"Until Barbossa found a way to remove the curse," Jack nodded.
"Aye," Bootstrap said. "I knew it was just a matter o' time before he tracked down my Will. I'd twigged to why he'd need Turner blood, see. Had plenty of time to kill and I spent a mort of it askin' around. Took me damn near two years to figger it out. Met a fair few folks what knows things it ain't fit to know, too." He shuddered and drank deep.
When he emerged from the tankard, he was grinning again. "So," he said, scratching and spitting. "How'd you get the Black Pearl away from that whoreson Barbossa, eh?"
Jack, never sorry to have a fresh audience, told him the whole tale. When he'd done, Bill sat silent for a moment, then he looked at Jack and his mouth twisted.
"You killed him yourself, Jack?" he asked.
"I did, old friend."
There was grim satisfaction in Bootstrap's ruined face. "How'd he die?"
"Hard," Jack said.
"Not hard enough, I'll warrant," Turner replied.
"No, Bill," Jack said, somberly, "Never hard enough."
Silence fell for several minutes, until Bootstrap emptied his tankard once more and slammed it down.
"And now I find my Will survived. He's stepped into Barbossa's shoes and is out to kill you," he growled.
"Ironic, innit?" Jack agreed, waving to the barmaid.
Bill dropped his head into his hands and sighed. "What's that fucking Barbossa done to my boy?" he asked mournfully.
"Made a savage of him, by all accounts," Jack replied, regarding his old friend with pity. "He's called El Diablo Inglés by the Spanish."
"I've heard," Turner spoke without lifting his head, his voice muffled. "And Will was such a kind-hearted lad and all."
After another short silence, Bootstrap sighed again and looked at Jack. "Take me with you," he said.
"When you go after Will," Turner said, "I want to come with you."
"William," Jack said, worriedly, "Are you sure?"
"'Course I'm sure," Bill snapped. "He's a mad dog; for all that he's my flesh and blood. He's got to be stopped."
"It'll be a fight to the death, you know," Jack reminded him. "Will's not one to offer quarter."
"Will's not," Bootstrap said, "But you are."
So that was the way of it, Jack thought. "I can make no promises," he replied. "We sail with the Navy, William. And, if they catch him, Will is going to hang."
Turner shook his head. "I ain't expectin' you to promise to save 'im, Jack," he said. "All I ask is two things: take me with you when you sail, and - if'n he jest happens to fall into your hands, mind - be merciful to my son."
How could he refuse? Jack slapped the table. "Agreed," he said.
The two men shook hands on their bargain and Jack bought his old mate a meal, for it seemed that Bootstrap had spent his last farthing following the Pearl here to George Town, in the hopes of seeing Jack.
"Don't argue, you stubborn old goat," he said, when Turner protested. "You're a member of the crew now and you do what I say, eh? Eat. That's an order."
"Aye, Cap'n," Turner tucked into the food, secretly glad to be persuaded. "Cheeky sprat," he muttered into his tankard, grinning. Jack ignored him.
When he'd done with his meal, Jack sent him to the Pearl to get settled in. "See Gibbs," he told Turner. "He's quartermaster. Tell him I sent you."
Turner rose. "Aye, Jack," he nodded. He turned to go and stopped. "One thing more," he said. "I give up the name Bootstrap Bill Turner awhile back. I'm Billy Bones now. Don't want no questions, see?"
"As you wish… Billy Bones," Jack grinned.
'Billy' sketched a salute and stumped out into the sunlight on his way to the harbour.
Jack finished his ale thoughtfully. It seemed to him that Bootstrap's - Billy Bones's - appearance was an omen of some sort, but damned if he could tell whether it was a good one or a bad. He wondered what Gibbs, superstitious as he was, would make of it, but decided against telling him. Let Billy's secrets lie, he told himself. Poor old bugger's been through enough.
He noticed Doctor Selwyn coming down the stairs and realized that he'd been away from James's room for far longer than he'd intended. Time to get back, lest Mrs. Snooty Norrington get to thinking she'd have things all her own way.
Stopping for a word with Hobson about a room for himself and removing the offending daybed, he went up the stairs and entered the Commodore's room without knocking.
The Norringtons glanced up and Elizabeth put aside the book she had been reading aloud. Jack noted with annoyance that it was his copy of Robinson Crusoe.
"I saw Doctor Selwyn leaving," Jack said. "What did he say to your plan of getting out of bed?"
James looked vexed. "He told me that I must not consider it for two more days, at least."
"I am sure he did, and in no uncertain terms, eh?" chuckled Jack. "I'd give a pretty penny to have heard the dressing down he gave you for daring to suggest it."
James was obliged to smile. "He did his best to make me feel an errant schoolboy," he admitted. "It put me forcibly in mind of my tutor, in fact."
"Doctor Selwyn," Elizabeth put in, "Has very decided notions on convalescence. He was most eloquent and persuasive."
"It is galling," James said, almost fretfully, "to lie here perforce, thinking of all the work I should be doing."
"Then do not think of it," Jack advised, pulling up a chair and sitting in it. "We will undertake to divert you." He grinned pointedly at Elizabeth. "I see Mrs. Norrington is carrying on reading my Robinson Crusoe to you. Have I missed much?"
"We had only just begun," Elizabeth replied, smiling sweetly at him, "But now that you are here to read it for us…"
She held the book out to Jack but he leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the bed, with the air of one ready to be entertained.
"Wouldn't dream of usurping your place, ma'am," he said, grinning. "Can't recall the last time I had the pleasure of being read to by a lady. I'll warrant you read charmingly. Ain't I right, Commodore?"
James, clearly uneasy at the tenor of the exchange, had opened his mouth to reply when Elizabeth patted his hand.
"Unfair of you, Captain Sparrow," she said, laughing a little, "To tease my poor husband in such a way! I might read as harshly as a raven and yet he now would feel obliged to compliment me and thus do violence to his honesty." She opened the book and found her place.
"Very well, I will read to you, but I beg you will remember that you have no one but yourself to blame," she added, and began.
Elizabeth did indeed read charmingly and James, who had flushed uncomfortably at her mention of honesty, relaxed by degrees as the story went on. After an hour, however, her voice grew thick and he called a halt.
"What a selfish creature I am," he said, "To allow you to read yourself hoarse for me. Put it up."
Elizabeth smiled and set the book aside.
"Well then," cried Jack, "It's my turn to entertain the invalid, is it?" He took a pack of cards out of his pocket. "What do you say to hand or two of piquet, eh?"
"If Elizabeth does not object," James said, "I would enjoy it."
"Heavens, why should I object?" Elizabeth said, picking up her sewing. "It is an excellent notion. As I have no turn for cards, you have too few opportunities to play against an opponent worthy of your steel."
Jack chuckled. "Well, that remains to be seen. But just to be safe, I suggest we play for straws, mate." He winked. "Unsporting to take advantage of any lingering delirium."
"As if you could," James retorted, one eyebrow rising. "Deal, you braggart."
They played with great concentration until Mistress Hobson's entrance with their lunch brought the game to a close. A vast quantity of imaginary straws had changed hands but they had ended nearly even, to Jack's surprise and James's amusement.
After their meal, a messenger arrived summoning Jack to the Pearl, to settle a question that had arisen regarding repairs. James, meanwhile, napped, being still a great deal weaker than he liked to admit. Elizabeth saw him settled and went for a walk.
Fresh air and exercise were very welcome, after the closeness of the sickroom, and she walked for some time. She had never been to Grand Cayman before and she observed her surroundings with interest. George Town had a character far different than Port Royal. The town was tiny, barely more than a village, and the island lay so low in the water that it seemed as if one fair-sized wave could sweep right over it from one side to the other. She found herself wondering what it must be like to weather a hurricane in such a place and admired the hardiness of the settlers.
On her return to the Blue Turtle, she stopped in the common room to ask Hobson if he had a draughts board. He cheerfully provided her with a board and a box of men, apologizing for the roughness of the set. Elizabeth assured him that it would serve admirably and carried her prize up to the room, coming in just as James woke from his nap.
"Feeling better?" she asked, kissing him.
"A little," James replied. He was inclined to be grumpy. "Still so confoundedly weak," he growled.
"Patience, darling," said Elizabeth, thinking with amusement that he sounded rather childish. She looked forward to joking him about it once he was well. Yes, she thought, when he is well and we are home in Port Royal, and I have him to myself. Thrusting the thought away, she smiled.
"Look what I brought you," she said, placing the draughts board on the bed. "Will you play?"
They were just concluding their second game when Jack returned from the harbour.
"Ah," he said, perching on the foot of the bed. "That puts me in mind of a chess set I saw once. In India, it was."
"You've been to India, Captain Sparrow?" Elizabeth asked.
"Spent a good few years out there," Jack nodded. "Saw some marvels, but few to equal that chess set. Belonged to a Maharajah of my acquaintance. It was the pride of his kingdom and he kept a guard around it night and day composed of thirty of his fiercest warriors."
"Was it so valuable, then?" James asked.
"Oh aye," Jack replied. "Worth more than the city he ruled and everything in it. The board was made of alexandrite and mother of pearl; the squares incised with lotus blossoms and each line inlaid with tiny jewels - diamonds on the green squares and sapphires on the white. By candlelight, of course, the alexandrite went from green to blood red and the diamonds and sapphires sparkled with a cold fire."
"Good gracious!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "I can well believe what you say of its value."
"The chess pieces," Jack went on, very much enjoying the effect his words were having upon his audience, "Were carved of enormous gems, each one a single stone. Rubies and opals, they were; the pawns as big as my thumb, with the other pieces in proportion." He held up his hand in illustration. "And each one with eyes of diamond or sapphire. An astonishing sight."
"I should say so, indeed," James said. "But if this Maharajah guarded his treasure so carefully, Jack, how is it that you were able to get sight of it?"
"Ah, now, that's a tale, mate, that takes some telling," Jack replied. He leaned back against the bedpost and made himself comfortable. "It's like this. The Maharajah's uncle was an envious and ambitious man, not content with the post of chief minister. He wanted the lot, but to achieve that, his nephew would have to die. For years he had watched and waited for his chance. At last, he thought he saw the opportune moment approaching and he began to lay his plans. Disguising himself as a beggar he went down to the harbour…"
James and Elizabeth listened, hugely entertained, to the fantastical story that Jack unfolded. Never at a loss, he described a web of plots and counter-plots of more than byzantine complexity, with himself as the center and lynchpin of it all. Neither of them believed more that one word in ten, of course. Elizabeth was surprised to find that she nevertheless enjoyed herself very much.
"…and so it was that the former chief minister kept his appointment with the royal executioner and the chess board was restored to its place in the heart of the Maharajah's palace, with an entirely new set of guardians," Jack concluded with a bow.
"Did the Maharajah reward you for saving his life?" Elizabeth asked.
"He did," Jack replied, "Although it was a matter of some negotiation. He first offered me my pick of his thirty-seven sisters for wife. But royal princesses are notoriously costly to maintain and, besides, I doubted they'd take to life aboard ship. The Maharajah was inclined to take offense at my refusal, but was persuaded in the end to part with two small caskets, one full of gold and the other of uncut gems."
"Which fortune you put, no doubt, to some good use," James suggested.
"You might say so," Jack grinned, "But that's a tale for another day, for, unless I miss my guess, that sounds like Sally coming up the stairs with our dinner."
As they ate, Elizabeth was drawn, by insensible degrees, into conversation with Sparrow. They spoke of the countries he had visited and the seas he had sailed. Most of his life, it seemed, had been spent in wandering the globe. Unlike the story of the chess set, what he told them during dinner bore the ring of truth. She found herself disarmed and was startled to realize that, had he not been her enemy, she would have been pleased to know him better.
After dinner, they sat at James's bedside and conversed. It was, however, still early in the evening when James began to yawn.
"How on earth can I be sleepy already?" he demanded. "I seem to do nothing but sleep."
Jack laughed at him. "Your own fault, mate. If you hadn't been in such a rush to get up and about that you gave yourself a relapse, you'd be on your feet now."
James declined to acknowledge the truth of this, saying merely, "We will see what Selwyn has to say tomorrow."
"We will indeed," Jack replied. "And now, I shall bid you good night." As he said this he glanced at Elizabeth, but her face was turned away.
"Good night, Captain Sparrow," she said, quite pleasantly, not looking up from her sewing.
"'Night, Jack," said James, on another gaping yawn.
The next morning, after they had breakfasted and Doctor Selwyn had dashed James's hopes by declaring that he must remain in bed for one more day, Hobson came up to announce Captain Groves.
"Send him up, please, Hobson," James said, looking grave. He glanced at Jack before turning to Elizabeth. "Groves would not have come, save to bring me some extraordinary news," he explained. "Forgive me, but I must speak with him alone."
"Of course," Elizabeth nodded, picking up her hat and sunshade. "I shall take my exercise while he is here."
James took her hand and kissed it. "Bless you, my dear."
Groves entered at that moment and Elizabeth turned to him with a smile.
"Captain Groves, what a pleasure to see you," she said, holding out her hand, which he kissed.
"Mrs. Norrington," he replied, smiling, "What did you do to poor Lieutenant Parker? He looked very green about the gills after conducting you from the Swift the other night."
Elizabeth laughed. "Did he? Nothing so very bad, I assure you. But he would stand there, bleating about 'can't' and 'I don't think I should', so what could I do but speak firmly to him?"
Groves chuckled and shook his head. "Then I can hardly blame him; I know how terrifying you are in that mood."
"You are unchivalrous, sir," Elizabeth chuckled. "I shall tell Mary so. And now, I shall leave you to talk Navy secrets with my husband, while I take my walk."
Captain Groves bowed to her and nodded at Jack as they left. When the door had closed behind them, he walked over to the bed and looked keenly at James.
"You look pale," he said. "How do you go on?"
"Oh for the love of God, not you, too, Theo," James cried. "I get enough of that from Elizabeth and the doctor."
Groves laughed and sat down. "Coddling you, are they?" he asked, sympathetically.
"To within an inch of my life," James replied, with an eloquent roll of his eyes. "Now, what news?"
"We have word of Turner at last," Groves said. "He's gone to ground at Montego Bay."
"We'll have to so something about that place," James nodded. "Bad enough they harbour petty smugglers, but when they take in pirates, they've gone too far to wink at."
"I agree," Groves replied, "But they can wait."
"Yes. Now, what strength does Turner have?" James asked.
"Just his three remaining ships, at the moment," replied Groves. "He's contrived to get them all back there, even the one Sparrow damaged so badly. But, formidable as he is with three ships, I fear he may soon have more. He has, apparently, sent word to Tortuga looking for allies."
"Has he?" James said. "I take it he thinks us ripe for the plucking."
"So it seems. The burden of his message is that, if they band together to defeat the British Navy, they can each go their own way afterward, with every English town from here to Bermuda wide open for the taking."
James's face was grim. "If, as Sparrow claims, Turner's original intention was only to kill him and take back the Black Pearl, then his ambition seems to have grown monstrously large in a very short time. Can he be sane, do you think?"
"Sane or mad, he's deadly dangerous, James," Groves said. "If he succeeds in recruiting even a half-dozen of the usual small pirate vessels to join with those three ships of the line he's got, he could well prevail."
"I know it."
There was a silence.
"Curse this damned shoulder," James muttered. Groves said nothing.
"We cannot risk waiting until I am well enough," James went on, reluctantly. "You'll have to take the fight to him, Theo. Crush him before he gathers more followers."
Groves nodded. "It's the only way, I fear," he said.
"Good thing for you that we are friends," James grumbled, "Else I could hate you for this."
"And there would go my career," Theo grinned. "With the Commodore against me, I'd be doomed."
James's eyebrows rose. "Are you laughing at me, Captain Groves?" he asked.
Groves pulled his face straight. "Certainly not, sir," he declared. "Never, sir."
James chuckled. "Oh, shut up, you humbug. Must I remind you again, that it's my shoulder that's damaged, not my intellect? Now, how stands the fleet?"
"The Lord Weldon is, of course, still without a mainmast. But the captured pirate is ready to sail. I've shifted most of my men to her and made up the rest from the fort and a few from the other ships."
"Good," James said. "That makes it six to three in our favour."
"Six?" Groves asked. "Then Sparrow will be sailing with us?"
"He will," James nodded. "That is, I expect he will be. I will speak to him about it this morning."
"Can we trust him, James?"
"In this, yes," James replied. "He is a marked man until Turner is accounted for; he will spare no effort to defeat him."
Groves was obliged to admit that this made sense. They spent another hour going over details before Elizabeth returned from her walk. As she was removing her hat, Jack came into the room.
In a few words, James told them of the situation. "The fleet sails tomorrow, under Captain Groves," he went on. "Captain Sparrow, may we count upon you to accompany him?"
Jack bowed. "Of course," he said. "I wouldn't miss this for worlds."
"Thank you," James replied. He looked to Groves and held out his hand. "Good luck, Theo," he said. "And Godspeed. Take care of my Dauntless."
Groves smiled as he wrung James's hand. "Thank you, James. I will." He bowed to Elizabeth.
"Good luck, Captain Groves," she said, smiling.
Groves looked at Jack. "Captain Sparrow, I will hold a strategy conference in my office at the fort today at noon. I would request that you and the captain of the Fury attend."
"We will be there," he replied.
When Groves had gone, Jack went to the bedside. "You trust me?" he asked, looking down at James.
"Yes," James replied, "As does Groves."
For a long moment, dark eyes stared into green, and, as once before, Jack's chin dipped a fraction in the tiniest of nods. James held out his hand with a smile and Jack took it.
"Godspeed, Jack," he said softly. "Good luck."
"Thank you, James" Jack replied. Releasing James's hand, Jack turned to Elizabeth and bowed.
Elizabeth curtseyed. "Good luck, Captain Sparrow," she said.
Jack put his hat on. With his hand on the latch he turned and grinned at James.
"Until next time," he said, and was gone.
As the sound of Jack's footsteps on the stairs died away, James looked at his wife.
"Elizabeth," he said, "I must talk to you."
"Of course, my dear," she replied. "What is it?"
James patted the mattress and she sat down on the edge of the bed. He took her hand in his, toying with her fingers as he spoke. "When the fleet sails tomorrow, they will take every sailor and all but a handful of marines - leaving barely enough to man the fort. We are committing all our forces to this battle in the hope of crushing Turner once and for all."
Elizabeth nodded. "Yes," she said. "I know."
"It is a rather desperate gamble, for, if we fail, nearly all the Crown's colonies in the West Indies will lie at the mercy of the buccaneers."
"But we are not likely to fail," Elizabeth said.
"We have the superior numbers at the moment, it is true," James replied. "That is why the fleet sails tomorrow - without me - to engage Turner before he can gather more ships under his flag. And Groves is a very skilled fighter, as is Sparrow. But there is luck to be considered; many things might still go wrong."
He paused, and Elizabeth wondered what was coming. After a few moments, James took a deep breath and met her eye.
"It is for this reason," he said, "That you must return to Port Royal immediately. It is one of the few towns that will not be left wholly defenseless in the event we are defeated. The Swift sails tomorrow before dawn; I want you to be aboard."
"No," Elizabeth cried, shaking her head, "I do not wish to go. I will not leave you!"
"Nor do I wish to see you go," James replied. "But I will rest easier knowing you are as safe as possible, and that means Port Royal."
"James, please," Elizabeth whispered, her eyes filling with tears. "Do not send me away, I beg of you." The tears spilled over. "Please."
"Elizabeth," James said, drawing her down until she was half-lying against him. "Darling girl, do not weep; you will break my heart. Please, dearest."
"But who will care for you?" she asked, her face pressed against his good shoulder, voice muffled.
"The Hobsons can provide what assistance I shall require," James assured her. "By tomorrow, I shall be able to leave this bed at last and I expect I shan't need much looking after from then on."
Her arm crept around his waist. There was silence for some time. James stroked her hair soothingly as Elizabeth struggled with her tears. At last she sighed.
"Must I go, indeed?" she asked, her tone wistful and resigned.
"Yes, my love," James replied, "You must."
She sat up, wiping her eyes with the heels of her hands. "Very well," she said, sniffling a little. "But I go under protest. You are very cruel, husband."
"Oh yes," James answered, relieved, "I am a very monster of inhumanity, am I not, to insist upon your safety?"
She nodded, searching for her handkerchief and blowing her nose. She looked at James and smiled, albeit wanly. Going to the washbasin, she splashed water on her cheeks and removed most traces of her tears.
Turning to face him, she asked, "Better?"
"Much," he replied, taking her hand and urging her to sit beside him once again.
Elizabeth picked up Jack's book from the bedside table and turned it over in her hands, running her fingers over the tooled leather and gilded pages. It was a beautiful thing. "Shall I read?"
"If you please," James replied.
When lunch arrived, a little more than an hour later, Elizabeth put aside the book and served James before sitting down to eat herself. They conversed quietly about literature, avoiding any mention of her impending departure.
After their meal, as James laid down for a nap, Elizabeth stepped out of her shoes and began to unlace her gown.
"What are you doing?" James asked.
"I think I should like a nap, too," Elizabeth replied, standing up in her shift. She turned back the covers and slipped into the bed beside her husband. He put his good arm around her and she snuggled against him. "There," she sighed. "I've been wanting to do this ever since I arrived."
"So have I," James replied.
The room was very warm and James had soon fallen asleep. Elizabeth, however, was wide awake, reluctant to miss a moment of the few hours remaining before she would leave.
James's breath stirred her hair; his chest rose and fell beneath her hand. His arm across her back clasped her firmly to his side. She wished that time would stop for a space and leave them like this; alone and at peace.
Instead, she would be sent home, alone, to Port Royal in the morning. James wanted her kept safe; she believed that and loved him for it. But did he also wish her out of the way, perhaps without even being aware of it? If she was once more back in Port Royal, then might not he and Sparrow…? She squeezed her eyes shut as if she could block out the memory of Jack's hands holding James down during his fever.
There was an ugly name for the love between man and man. Preachers thundered against it from the pulpit; the Navy was relentless and ruthless in punishing those caught indulging their 'unnatural lusts'. And ladies were protected from any knowledge of it - or so the gentlemen thought. But a Navy wife - especially one who, like Elizabeth, had grown up in a Navy port - would have to be blind, deaf or half-witted not to know of its existence. And Elizabeth was none of these things.
Sodomy - she used the word defiantly - did happen, and the men involved were not always depraved brutes. There were at least three officers - good men, gentlemen - currently serving on ships based in Port Royal to whom the ladies all referred, amongst themselves, as 'confirmed bachelors'. This was always uttered with a significant look that made it clear that the phrase was a euphemism. And yet these officers were received, they were even popular; she was on friendly terms with them all.
But James - her husband - and Jack Sparrow? It was possible, she found, to carry tolerance so far and no further.
And yet, husbands - even, sometimes, the best of them - strayed; it was a fact of life. Ladies were expected to look the other way and to ignore such infidelities as being beneath their notice. Women had shared their husbands with mistresses and whores since the beginning of time. But James - who was surely the best of men and the best husband - and a man?
No, she told herself. No. She would not go meekly home and surrender this fight. James was hers and she would not give him up, not to anyone.
But James, she knew, would not relent; his mind was made up - he would insist she leave as planned.
What if she did not go aboard the Swift at all, but hid herself in the town until all the Navy sailed away and it was impossible to pack her onto another vessel? But no, the commander of the Swift would surely raise the alarm if she failed to appear and a search would be made. George Town was far too small to hide her for long. And James would be furious with her for causing such a fuss.
She chewed her lip and thought for a while longer. Suddenly a plan burst into her imagination, a plan so daring, so brilliant - so utterly mad - that she gasped and her heart began to pound. But could it be done? Yes, yes, she thought she saw a way to accomplish it with none the wiser until it was far too late to stop her. She lay still, her eyes wide in half-frightened awe at her own audacity, and contemplated exactly what steps she needed to take. She would do this thing.
Another minute's thought and it occurred to her how angry James would be when he found out and she quailed, but not for long. Desperate times call for desperate measures, she told herself. And then, giddily, 'faint heart ne'er won fair maid.'
When James awoke, an hour later, Elizabeth had every detail of her 'escape' clear in her head; she was able to rein in her excitement in order to avoid arousing suspicion. They spent the afternoon playing draughts and reading.
After dinner, she packed the last items into her trunks and they were taken down to the harbour. Because the Swift was sailing well before dawn, James thought it best that she spend the night on board. Elizabeth made no demur, as this fit in with her plans admirably.
Once the trunks had gone, she spent the hours until it was time to leave sitting on the bed beside James, holding his hand and talking. She made him promise, if Doctor Selwyn allowed him to get up on the morrow, that he would be careful of over-exerting himself.
"You must be patient, my dear," she told him. "Remember what happened last time you were too precipitate."
James raised his eyes heavenward. "Yes, Mama," he sighed, making Elizabeth giggle.
But in the end, when Hobson had come up to announce that Lieutenant Parker was waiting downstairs to escort her to the Swift, she could not quite keep the tears at bay.
"I love you," she whispered, her voice breaking.
James drew her down and kissed her tenderly. "And I love you," he said. "Come, smile for me. It will not be so long until I am home again."
Elizabeth nodded and tried to smile. "I will miss you."
"And I you," James replied. "Safe journey, my dear. Farewell."
"Farewell, James," Elizabeth said. She picked up her shawl, kissed him again and went downstairs to meet Lieutenant Parker.
Once aboard the Swift, she went immediately to her cabin and requested that she not be disturbed. The captain, only too glad to have a passenger who was willing to stay out of the way of his crew, assured her that only direst emergency could cause him to trouble her. She thanked him and went below.
Elizabeth had observed with satisfaction that the harbour was in a state approaching chaos, as the fleet completed preparations to sail. So much the better she thought, unlocking her trunks and retrieving her writing desk. Placing it upon the cot, she took from within it paper, a pen and the inkhorn. Dipping the pen, she wrote:
Dear Captain Arnold,
I have decided to stay in George Town after all and have left the Swift. Not wishing to make more work for your men, I leave my trunks in your care, taking only my immediate necessities with me. Please deliver the trunks to my home in Port Royal and be assured of my eternal gratitude for the favour.
This note she folded and sealed - addressing it to the captain - and set it aside. Diving back into her trunks, she rummaged for a moment and drew forth a suit of boy's clothes and her sword, silently congratulating herself on the foresight that had led her to pack them in the first place. It was a sensible precaution to have brought along a disguise when sailing into dangerous waters.
She hastily stripped off her gown and shift and bundled them into the trunk, along with her shoes and silk stockings. Hurrying into her disguise, she checked her appearance in the mirror and was reminded of her hair, still piled atop her head. She removed the pins and brushed out the curls, then pulled it severely back into a single braid down her back. Another quick search of the trunk and she found the battered tricorne that completed her transformation from Commodore's lady to stripling boy. Lastly, she belted on her sword.
Elizabeth put her writing desk and hairbrush back in the trunk, closed and locked them both and pocketed the key. She then placed the folded note atop the trunk nearest the door where it would catch the eye of anyone entering the cabin. One last quick survey to be sure she had forgotten nothing, and she was ready.
She crept along the passage and listened. The sounds of activity on deck waxed and waned as gangs brought supplies aboard and left again. Elizabeth waited for the next crescendo of stamping and banging and slipped out on deck with her hat pulled low over her eyes. There was such a crowd milling about in the flaring torchlight that she was able to cross the deck and make her way down the gangplank without attracting any notice. She darted into the shadow of a shed and peered around, looking for the Black Pearl.
Her luck was with her; the Pearl was the next vessel down the quay. Cautiously, she slipped behind the shed and walked down the alley behind the buildings, feeling her way with one hand touching the wall beside her. Finding a gap in the row nearly opposite the Pearl's gangway, once more she waited, watching the two crewmen who stood guard at the foot of it. There was little activity aboard the Pearl - not nearly so much as on the Navy ships. Elizabeth guessed that perhaps privateers, due to the nature of their business, kept themselves in permanent readiness to sail and so had less to do this night.
Just when it seemed that she might be forced to try to bluff her way past the guards, Fortune favoured her once again. A brawl broke out a short way down the quay and the two privateers, after watching eagerly for a few moments, finally ran to join the fray, leaving the gangway unwatched.
Crouching low, Elizabeth dashed from her hiding place, up the gangway and onto the deck of the Black Pearl. She dropped into a patch of inky shadow at the foot of the mainmast and looked around, hardly daring to breathe.
There were voices coming from the fo'c's'le and she could see several figures on the quarterdeck, Sparrow among them, but they were turned away from her, watching the fight still in progress on the quay. There was not a soul to be seen on the main deck; she could scarcely believe her luck had carried her this far.
Elizabeth tiptoed to the swinging door that led to the great cabin and inched it open - thankful that it did not squeak. She ducked inside and eased it closed again. Creeping along the short passage, she let herself into the great cabin and breathed a sigh of relief to find it both empty and dimly lit by a small lantern.
around for a hiding place but could find none better than the dining table,
which was covered in an enormous brocade tablecloth that fell to the floor
in heavy folds on all sides, making a kind of tent. She crawled underneath
and straightened the cloth where it had been disarranged by her passage.
Sitting down upon the deck, with her sword in her lap and one of the massive
carved legs of the table supporting her back, she prepared to wait.
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